Photo: Alessandra Hartkopf for Strategies for Children

Five Massachusetts cities are among the more than 120 communities across the country that have submitted plans for a 2012 All America City Grade Level Reading Award sponsored by the National Civic League. This year’s awards, developed in partnership with the Campaign for Grade Level Reading, focus on communities’ plans to boost reading proficiency by the end of third grade, a critical educational benchmark that strongly predicts children’s chances of success in school and beyond.

“The reading problem is stark, but the solutions are clear,” Ralph Smith, the Annie E. Casey Foundation senior vice president who is managing director of the Campaign for Grade Level Reading said in in a news release. “By working together and focusing on school readiness, attendance, and summer learning, communities can start to improve reading success today.”

In Massachusetts Boston, Holyoke, Pittsfield, Springfield and Worcester have applied for the award.

See the full list here. Winners will be announced on July 2 in Denver.

According to the Casey report “Double Jeopardy: How Third-Grade Reading Skills and Poverty Influence High School Graduation,” children who do not read proficiently by the end of third grade are four times less likely to finish high school by age 19 than proficient readers. Overall, 16% of struggling third grade readers do not finish high school by age 19. More than a quarter (26%) of struggling third grade readers from families with incomes below the poverty line do not finish high school by age 19, and neither do 35% of struggling readers from poor families that live in high-poverty neighborhoods.

“Communities have already won just by applying,” Gloria Rubio-Cortes, president of the National Civic League, which sponsors the annual All-America City Award, said in a news release. “The act of coming together and creating a plan for improving early learning puts these places ahead. The application process was intended to elicit the best ideas, develop partnerships, and discover program efficiencies to put children on a track to graduation and success.”